Ri Vol1 Eyeofthe Ocean


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Ri Vol1 Eyeofthe Ocean

  1. 1. Ri Eye of the Ocean Book One A fantasy trilogy by Laurel Hickey
  2. 2. © 2000 by Laurel Hickey All rights reserved. Electronic edition published in 2000 by 2morrow press and 2morrow writing & document design. For further information, contact: Laurel Hickey 638 East 3rd Street North Vancouver, BC V7L 1G7 Canada www.2morrow.bc.ca lhickey@2morrow.bc.ca 604-987-3835 Cover art and illustrations © 1999 Hanna Skapski ISBN 0-9687845-1-8 (vol 1, electronic) Ri 0-9687845-2-6 (vol 2, electronic) Alisim 0-9687845-3-4 (vol 3, electronic) Ji’jin Station 0-9687845-0-X (3 volume set, electronic) Eye of the Ocean
  3. 3. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 1 Part I -1- The air was frosted, the tiles beneath their feet were frosted; breath surrounded their heads like clouds of incense. The others of Ulanda's beginner class giggled with relief at having made it through the dance without too many mistakes. The Temple Dance Master tapped her stick. A light snow fell, the first of that winter, the crystals like pollen on the woman's yellow robe. A knot of several other people stood a little apart, shadowy figures in hooded white cloaks. Ulanda blew on her fingers then pulled the sleeves of her knitted tunic down over her hands and grabbed the ends to make mitts. The Simic-born Dance Master was watching her, not her five classmates. “Ulanda.” The Dance Master's voice took each syllable and shattered it. “From the second chorus, min'tat position, without drums.” The neural Net feed they had been using for music snapped off, and the frozen square was quiet. Slippers had caked the dusting of snow into broken foot shapes on the tiles, obscuring the colored placing squares. Her feet were already numb. She licked her lips and tried to hear ci-ci drums in her mind. Third time through and her lungs were as frozen as her feet. The snow fell harder, hiding the tiles entirely. When she looked up from the closing turn, only the Dance Master and the strangers remained. The other five of her class were gone and she couldn't see their footprints. Fifth time and at the end of the last turn, she fell. The Dance Master helped her up, and then wrapped the ends of her thick woolen robe around, leaving only her head out as though she had grown from the teacher's middle. One of the white-cloaked forms moved closer, snow breaking away from the cloth of the hood. Eyes the green of the ocean looked at her. “Ulanda, will you dance for me?” Tilting her head back to look up, all that was visible of her teacher was the wrinkled throat and chin and the ends of the yellow hood. “Must I?” she whispered. The chin nodded down to her. “You must.” Another of the cloaked forms drew closer. “Sarkalt,” Ulanda heard him murmur, “it's too cold. Let the child go now.” But the Dance Master's stick tapped. “Ulanda, again.” ******************** ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  4. 4. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 2 The warm rain stopped and the runoff from the roof into the flooded courtyard slowed to single drips. Now she could hear the drums clearly. They were for the la'cellini, the dance of thanks, prelude for the cel'ka that in its common cycles, each building on the last, took an hour or more for the Temple dancers to perform. Part of the K^sini festival for the start of the rainy season. And the dream? The beginning of the broken promise—drums and winter ice, a snow-covered patio. Not this hot, airless now where there were no promises left. Patyin was curled against her back, part of the heat. He stirred, then stretched and smiled. “Did you say something?” At his words, the glow-globe began to shine, rising slowing to ceiling height. “Is it morning?” “No to both. You only just fell asleep.” “Then the dances haven't finished. Good.” With a grunt, he turned half over, then reached to the opposite side of the bed, looking for something. The bottle of wine. Empty. He let it drop. “I told Gei we'd meet him on the jetty before the procession started.” “If he's still at the K^sini.” “He'll be there. Or we’ll be there and he won’t.” She leaned against him, her hair falling over his chest in a dark shower. If she was hot, he was on fire, like a stick of incense burning, his skin scented with cedar. In Kalin, she thought, an honest prayer would be accompanied by incense made of marsh grass and mud, not cedar. Wetting the tip of one finger with her tongue, she traced the outline of his lips. In her face, his breath was samp grass and bitter almond from the local wine he’d had earlier. “The procession is boring. Stay and make love to me instead.” He chuckled. “Time enough after we get back. Tomorrow. Or is it today already?” He looked mildly pleased at his wit. “If it's tomorrow, then we don’t have to go.” She smiled into his eyes as though as pleased as he was at his wit. She didn't need to watch what her fingers were doing: darting along his skin, barely touching in light strokes that might end with a pinch and become, as quickly, a tickle. His shoulders, his arms, along his ribs. Waking sated nerves. When he gasped, she covered his mouth with hers, her cheek against his nose, holding his breath in. Chest heaving, he pushed her away. Instead of the passion she wanted, he only looked puzzled. She laughed, and with the back of one hand, stroked his red sweaty face. From simple fire, to a live coal. When he reached to return her touch, she thought he would finally pull her to him, but he only coiled a long dark strand of her hair around one finger. “Gei said…” “Did I mention boring?” Drawing the strand free, she brushed his chin with the already straightening curl. From his chin, letting the hair go, she drew her forefinger down his throat and then his chest, the thick, almost white curls parting under her long fingernail. He was the typical ice-blond of the southern islands. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  5. 5. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 3 He tried to capture her hand, but missed when she moved to his belly, pushing the light cover away. And moving lower again to the still erect flag of his penis. “I don’t know if I like you when you’re like this,” he whispered as this time he managed to take her fingers in his. “Did I ask you to like me?” she said, lying back. He chuckled as he swung around to get to his knees and then straddled her. “No, I don’t recall liking each other had anything to do with it.” After they made love, he gathered her to his side, her head in the crook of one arm. In a moment, he was snoring. Her sleeping robe was on the floor next to the bed, and careful not to wake him again, she disentangled herself from his embrace, and slipped it over her shoulders. From Wis'opil, bought years ago and half the world away, a soft indigo cotton. Piltsimic weaving. There wasn't anything in Kalin Market to compare. As she watched Patyin sleep, her hands smoothed the few wrinkles in the cloth from lying on the floor. And from smoothing, to brushing the tips of her fingers across the surface of the weave. Closing her eyes, she saw what her fingers couldn't feel—or her mind find in the sound of the rain—patterns in the weaving. Nights and days in her life, the extract of years. And still, the threads crossed and re-crossed, relentless in their perfection. She balled her hands into fists, wanting to strike somebody, anybody. Patyin would do. Sudden rage filled her throat; she couldn't breath. And it's not his fault. Memory slammed into her. Ri-altar. Niv. And her words to the Overpriest. Days of rain had turned the small back courtyard off her bedroom into a shallow pool, about an inch deep. She splashed through her own reflection, dark with a halo of golden light from the glow-globe. The air smelled only of the nearby river: brackish water and fish and hemp from the nets. Beyond the courtyard wall was another house, the roofline dark against the clouded sky. A baby began to cry, but was quickly hushed. Further away, in the direction of the river jetty, a dog barked. And from the town center came the roll of the ci-ci drums, drowning out the sounds of the river. She didn't remember the end of the dance on the snowy patio all those years ago, but only upon waking the next morning expecting the crowded warmth of the Temple dormitory. Instead, she had been in a small cold room with two other children, only their noses and hair showing above the blankets. Blond heads, Ri- born, most people at South Bay Temple were native to the world. Shivering even with the blanket around her for warmth, she stood and looked out the single window. The ocean was white-green under the crack of light that was the dawn. She was in the Priest House. In the Acolyte's quarters. Despite the sound of the drums, she heard Patyin get up and call her. And again. Then the commode, then a mouthful of water gargled and spat out. Then the front door hit the wall as he left. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  6. 6. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 4 When the rain started again, covering the sounds of the festival, Ulanda went back inside and shut the front door. Hot water for a bath, she thought as she walked towards the back, the glow-globe following her. And while she bathed, heat more water for tea. Then she'd go to bed. Slipping her robe off, she smoothed the rain-spotted cloth over the chest that marked the end of the short passage from the front of the house to the covered rear porch where the cooking was done. Then the glow-globe darted past her and brightened. She looked up. Leaning against the post supporting the porch awning was a man. Black pants and vest, the vest open to the mat of dark curly hair covering his chest and rounded belly. He was tall for a Piltsimic, perhaps to her shoulder, but easily three times her mass. “You're supposed to be in Cam^ka.” He spoke in Empire plain-tongue, not Ri-native. The fear she had only just then felt, disappeared. “I take it this isn't a casual encounter.” “Does it look like one?” “May I offer you tea, then?” At the same time, she made a sign with her fingers that meant acquiescence, a Temple-based gesture that had no Ri equivalent. An allowance, an admission that she was open to the possibilities his being here offered. He grunted. “Put some clothes on and we'll talk.” “About what?” Then added in the poetry of High-formal: “The curl of the tea leaf off the bush? The release to the steam?” He chuckled then laughed, shaking his head, the dangling lobes of his large ears flying. And in Ri-native said: “Something like that.” His Ri-native had the accent of the Yulse Calsai, a long chain of islands that circled a quarter of the world in an arc that pointed on both ends to Ri'sani, the main island. Most off-world trade was centered in the north Calsai islands, but there was an easiness even in those few words that suggested he might have been born on Ri. Three oral languages without a neural Net to translate… and one that wasn't oral and which was usually only known to people who had dealings with Temple. Plus a fifth, she could assume he knew Piltsimic-native, a language she didn't. An educated man. His directness—or rudeness—she discounted, both were Piltsimic traits. After slipping her sleeping robe back on, Ulanda poured fresh water into the kettle and took it to the ceramic fire-ring set in the tile floor. Next to the fire ring was a tea service and a basket of twigs and dried marsh grass twisted into knots in the Kalin fashion. Live coals remained under the ashes from the tea she had made earlier for Patyin. A knot of the grass rekindled the flame, but she let that die, watching silently as the fire-spent embers, still in the shape of the long leaves, collapsed under their own weight. Let him wait. The Piltsimic had come to her. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  7. 7. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 5 The stout man grunted again as he knelt with the tea tray between them. He added more grass to the coals, then a handful of the twigs, and put the kettle on the ring. “Well?” His low voice turned the word into a growl. Flames had spread out against the round bottom of the kettle before she spoke, this time in Ri. “Why should I be in Cam^ka?” “Because some fool didn't manage to notice that you'd left. Because I went there first and wasted a day.” She raised her eyes to his. So, his being here had history behind it, and some effort. And resources that included the use of a flitter and likely access to Net records from the two ports, Cam^ka and Kalin. Very well connected. Or rich, or his connections were. Or Temple. “A whole day?” She was careful to keep her voice light, almost playful. “And much of the night, apparently. I don't envy this fool of yours. Did you come with the Temple people for the K^sini? I heard they came by flitter, not boat.” “Don't recall saying I was with them.” His small dark eyes narrowed. “You've been here, what? Two months? Plan on staying long?” In marshy Kalin? On a mud flat turned shallow river for a few hours after the almost daily rains? And with the real rainy season and the floods about to start? She looked away with a shrug that mirrored her thoughts on the matter. From one of the jars of tea, she took a pinch of the leaves and dropped them into the fire. Sparks and the scent of the leaf, anticipating the flavor. She could turn his Piltsimic directness back on him. “Where were you before you went to Cam^ka?” He opened the other tea jar on the tray, shook his head and put it down. “Where I was only matters if you agree.” She moved the jar back to its proper place on the tray. “Agree to what?” His inspection of the teapot was next. An unglazed yellow clay base, marsh flowers carved into the clay and the cuts outlined with a shiny blue glaze. Local made, and like the furnishings, it had come with the house. “A job,” he said without raising his eyes from the tea pot. “I have one.” With a sidelong look at her: “So you do. What about the boy?” She shrugged again. “Does he matter? If you're offering something better, that is.” “His father is Master of Scribes here in Kalin. No mean position.” “In Kalin? What of the job you're offering me? As mean a position in as mean a place?” A final inspection of the teapot—as though the shapes his broad thumbs traced in the glazing pattern took all his concentration—then he put it on the lip of the fire-ring and took the jar of tea she had just opened and held it under his nose. “This stuff is pitiful.” “Patyin likes it. Perhaps it's an acquired taste.” “Have you acquired it?” “How many times need I say no?” She got to her feet and went to the cabinet. “I've some wine. It's local, but…” He shook his head. “Probably another acquired taste.” ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  8. 8. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 6 “After two months in Kalin? Yes, it is.” In the cabinet were several bottles, something Patyin hadn't known or he would have taken them. With them were some fruit, mangos and bananas, and a bunch of wilted kale she had meant to cook for dinner. And under the kale, an oiled paper bag. Anise cookies, most of them broken. The few whole ones barely covered the surface of a plate and she arranged a rosette in the center from the larger pieces, sprinkled loose seeds over top, and brought them to him. The Piltsimic picked out a whole cookie and ate it in one bite. And another, but this one he held up instead of eating. “What are stale cookies supposed to contribute to the dialogue?” “Crumbs?” He ate it. “Crumbs, it is.” A sharp whistle, the water was near boiling. She slid the kettle off the fire. “Is this the point in the dialogue when I get to hear who is doing the offering?” He moved the plate of cookies to his lap. “Call me Bolda.” She raised one eyebrow. “Your offer?” “What? The substance or the who?” She made an exaggerated motion of allowance. “As I don't know either, whichever or both as contributes to the dialogue.” He chuckled through crumbs, but didn't answer. “I'm gratified I amuse you.” “Well, it's not me you have to amuse.” So, it wasn’t him. She felt disappointed, but knew it hadn't been likely. “At such great personal effort, you must trust that I can amuse.” “For more than two months at a stretch? Actually, amuse might not be the right word. You'll catch his attention like fingernails on a plaster wall.” “Such confidence in my skills. I'm overwhelmed.” She put another pinch of the objectionable tea into the dying flames. “Or is it my dancing we're speaking of?” “Just one dance.” Smoke from the burning tea caught the back of her throat. She couldn't breath. Out of the harmony of the rain on the roof, the water running from the kitchen awning onto the courtyard, came the sound of the individual drops, each distinct, each creating another harmony, the one she had looked for earlier and hadn't found. A resonance with the air, the cloth, with the tiles, with her heart beat. And in the sound: the ci-ci drums. Will you dance for me? “Of course,” she managed to say. “According to Patyin, it's a dance you perform very well. Although I doubt he has much basis for comparison.” “No.” “Is that my answer or your opinion?” She shook her head. “No. And no again if you ask again without telling me more.” ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  9. 9. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 7 “You get a standard contract. If you please the man. If you don't, then your expenses will be paid, and if you need it, some help making other arrangements.” “No.” The last cookie eaten, he fanned his face a couple of times with the empty plate, then put it on the floor. “This is getting boring. It's too hot to argue.” “So? Your being here says you know more about me than you let on. And knowing more and being here, says…” “Says what? Temple? Temple doesn't hand out second chances. You screwed up; live with it.” “Who are you?” she whispered. “Asam e'Bolda of the Imperial Household.” Cedar. Black joss sticks burning. Prayers that Patyin would have made to the Empress. “You misjudge me. I'm no fool.” “Is that so?” Without taking his eyes off her, he got to his feet. “Is there anything you want to pack?” “Now?” she said and felt like the fool she had claimed she wasn't. Of course, now. A day wasted. She heard the front door open and stay open—a difference in the flow of air and the sound of the rain. Patyin. She didn't take her eyes off the Piltsimic. Behind him, the silvered curtain of water running off the awning blurred as she lost the edges of her vision. But there were two sets of footsteps in the hall and a change in the air again, the feel of more people, the sound of their breathing, emotions like scent. Possibilities. She turned her head and had to blink rapidly before being able to see Patyin and Gei, shoulder to shoulder in the hall. “Ulanda?” Patyin slurred her name. “What… who's that?” “Another customer,” Gei said. He sounded sober. “I thought you said you had an exclusive arrangement.” The Piltsimic said something in a language she hadn't heard before. From the courtyard where she had stood earlier, two forms rose out of the darkness and were gone into the bedroom before she could make sense of what she was seeing. There was the sound of scratches on the floor tiles, not footsteps. From the hall, Patyin and Gei could obviously see what was making the noise. They backed up. Then her sight of them was blocked. Dark robes, a glint of ochre chitin. “I told you it was too hot to play games,” Bolda said to her in plain-tongue. As though that had been a key, she suddenly caught the Piltsimic's tight Net lead. And the node? Tiny Kalin had a single node but it wasn't available for general use, the links set for the weather watch, the port assay, and the navigational leads. Besides, what she felt wasn't a domestic Net system; the signature of the energy pathway was hauntingly familiar. He blocked her from the lead like swatting an insect. It faded, then, suddenly, was there again. He looked amused. “So, you haven't forgotten everything.” ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  10. 10. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 8 And through his lead—and then in the air, surrounding them—the whine of a flitter. And then the shape of the craft over the house. The flitter landed half in the courtyard, half in the next yard, the mud wall between flattened under it. Black hull tiles gleamed dully. She stood to see it better. A design around the eye of the ship, a change more of texture than what the poor light allowed her to see. The wings of the Empress’ signature? “I want a permanent position…” Her heart was in her throat as she turned towards the Piltsimic. It was all she could do to keep her voice from breaking. “Something at least equivalent to a Steward Third Grade. And I want it as a signing bonus.” Again, the Piltsimic looked amused. “Fine.” -2- Coming out of the last corridor, Cassa had been beside him. Impossibly, they were arm in arm and Garm put his hand over where hers would have been. You said you wouldn't leave me. The words were like the strange mood he had woken with, like the ghost at his elbow. Garm didn't know if he imagined her saying them or they had come from his own lips. He had never let her go and he never would. His hand still over hers, he stood at the entrance several moments before realizing he knew where he was. Risent Common. Round sided, the high dome was supported by arches that spread their legs to arcades within. He was in one. Sunshine on marble the color of new leaves—a false sun on stone leaves—a small green world in the depths of the Palace in low orbit over Ri. On the banner above his head, in one or more of a dozen languages, was written the names of the shops he had just passed. “Tea, lord? Leaves from Visnet, the finest amber…” A vender, only the closest of several targeting him as he left the shelter of the arch, all of them dressed much the same in bright rags. A… man, Garm thought, deciding on the sex even as he had no idea of the species. Obviously dyed red hair, the vendors face striped with the same color. Painted on—the makeup had caked in the creases around his wide mouth—the sight left him vaguely relieved without knowing why. “… steaming hot, sweetened with…” The hand not holding the bowl under the spigot of the urn held the price formed by fingers without apparent bones to restrict the shapes they made. Tea bowls hung from a waist cord, he wore the urn like an extra hip. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  11. 11. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 9 “Tea, yes. Tea.” But not here and not standing. Garm signed a negative but was followed in his retreat. “Fruit buns, sugar rolls…?” Another vendor had joined the first. Facing the common were several cafes, their tables like game pieces thrown to occupy as much as of the open area as possible. Tea and a rest, he decided as he knelt at the closest table with a thick cushion over the floor. His legs bent reluctantly and his back complained. One of the servers chased the vendors away. Garm turned his back to the fading argument and sighed with relief. A spider-like Wa'tic sorted beads across from him, the rhythmic tic-tic of its words keeping time with the clacking of the bone rounds. As expected, the small creature ignored him. A table away, a pair of young girls exchanged pastries, giggles and confidences. About him? He was being peeked at, but the whispers were exchanged behind sheltering hands and he couldn't hear. He shook his head. No one here knew who he was and had no cause to wonder. A tired old man—a common breed in age if not in species. Swollen fingers entwined, he stretched his arms until the joints popped. As he folded his hands back in his lap, the smell of rotting meat replaced the scent of tea and pastries. The talisman hidden up one sleeve had fallen out. Small white flowers, each with six cupped petals—crushed now and turning brown—were attached to a narrow silver tube. Complex braiding surrounded the tube but done in red strands, not the usual black. The entire thing fit in the palm of his hand. A call of luck in the color and an offering to Cassa in the silver, and the talisman placed on the threshold of a service door just outside the ruined portion of the Imperial Suite. He had found it an hour earlier. He remembered that the plainness of the door had appealed to him. Unpainted wooden planks, it had felt warm, alive. Another ghost? Or a welcome change from what he was leaving? With the door held open, he hadn't noticed the talisman on the floor until he stepped on it. Putting it there certainly should have been noticed by High Council Security, although he doubted his own Security routinely extended that far any more. His taking it would have been noticed by both, his entrance into the secured area noted and his exit watched for. Minutes after picking the thing up, he'd had to wave off his flitter, his message in the Net to the pilot and the guards inside, quite clear: leave me alone. And knew his Security wouldn't do anything of the kind. He was certainly being peeked by more than curious children. Tucking the flower back in his sleeve, he turned to find the serving woman watching him. “Tea,” he said. “Roasted honey-leaf and strong.” As blond as most here, her round face spoke of frequent smiles, but now the smile looked as painted as the stripes the vendor wore. Her eyes had been on the talisman. Cookies he hadn't ordered came with the tea, nutmeg in the crisp rounds, and the plate scattered with candied rose petals. He wouldn't pay for them he decided as he crumbled a rose petal; he wouldn't subsidize another's hope. For the first time in years, this morning’s walk had taken him deep into the wreck Cassa had left of much of the Imperial Suite. And now… what of his own hopes? A long, very foolish walk as far away from the endless granite as his legs ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  12. 12. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 10 could take him. His courage had been a mood quickly over but even at its height hadn't taken him into Cassa's study where some of the stone was her. He blew over his tea and sipped, hearing each swallow. The glass bowl clinked on the small tray when he put it down, the sound making him wince. All around him, whispers had replaced talk. From a Piltsimic matron a full table away, he heard, “I tell you it's him. No one else would dare have taken it.” Glossy black and round bodied under exquisite silks, she whispered her words in a soft growl as she leaned to the man seated next to her. A daughter—splotchy colored still as young Piltsimic were, but looking to proof black like her mother—was up on her knees, frankly staring. “San Garm, her tass'alt, then,” the man said, an eyebrow raised in appraisal. “Doesn't look like much.” Raising his cup, he saluted the three. “Yes, hers.” In the new silence around him, his words were as stark as the feelings that threatened him. “Always hers.” Thirty-five years of waiting, the ghost ready at his elbow. Always. That last day, Cassa should have been sleeping; she had been up all night and still at Ri-altar by sunrise. A wet day, he remembered. No heavy rain, more a settling of the cloud against the low mountain. Normally visible from there, a finger width above the highest peak, Palace was hidden by clouds. Best seen at dawn, it burned like a morning star in a sky where no other stars were visible. They had gone straight to Ri-altar on the main island, from the Imperial Hall of Justice in Palace, landing in the clearing a few minutes walk from the ring of trees that made up the altar. Only the glow from the flitter lit the ground, the hull tiles had been left translucent, turning the people inside into flickering shadows and the surrounding mist into silver threads in the weave of evergreens. “I could swim in this air,” Cassa had said, sounding amused as she turned around only to face him again, the heavy brocade of her Audience robe sweeping about her ankles. “I feel I've been crawling all day. If I heard one more presentation of the obvious…” Her tone was higher pitched than usual, brittle— she tended to a full throaty voice which broke to a rasp when she was tired. “Here I thought you were asleep through most of the judgments. Was I mistaken?” She smiled. “Perhaps I was the only one obvious.” “But only to me.” Asleep most of the time, waking only to insist on some seemingly arbitrary change to the Justice decisions. Justice analysts and Priests both would be scrambling to decide if the differences meant anything or were a whim of a woman they had no chance of understanding. He shook his head, he certainly didn't know, and he knew her better than anyone. “Have you had the fresh air you wanted? The rest of us have beds we'd rather be in.” “And you?” “I'd rather you be with me in my bed, not here at any rate.” He frowned but it was play. “Or am I mistaken again, are you here to pray?” “What would I have to say to a ring of trees?” ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  13. 13. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 11 Playful in return and willing to be amused. He might tease her out of the mood. “And me?” he asked, letting his hands make an abortive prayer sign in Ri- native, his fingers against her skin. “What would you say to me?” She moved against his hands. “I'd say I don't want to stay here.” “Then…” “And I'd say I don't want to go back. Come with me for a walk.” “Where?” “We could walk to the beach by dawn. Or we could swim there through the clouds. Would the way be shorter?” Amused and playful, but she moved like an awkward girl, all stiff limbs, each surprised to find themselves attached to a body. She had none of the grace so common to Empire Priests. “Can we swim to South Bay Temple instead? I'm thinking of breakfast.” A peace of sorts had been reached with Sarkalt, the Overpriest of Forms. South Bay was an allied Temple of that Office. And he could trust Cassa's instinct for survival, instinct augmented by pattern sense. If South Bay Temple wasn't safe, she wouldn't go there and any reason why not would do. He continued to touch her, now drawing out the ends of the long cords that bound her wrists, now rubbing the g'ta points, tracing the energy pathways from face to neck, along her arms. And loosening the ties in the layers of robes she wore, moved to her breasts, to her waist, always stroking, his hands warm from the silk and her skin. J'yi watched from the door of the flitter, watched him, not Cassa. The tass'altin would step in only if Garm allowed. Both her hands on his arms stopped him. A dead weight, there was no strength in the crippled wrists. “I don't need this, let me go.” His hands said he would in a polite shape, then denied the possibility as he lifted her already damp hair from where it lay against her throat and smoothed it back. He was constantly surprised to find her face to his; too often he felt he held mist in his arms. Leaning forward, as though to whisper in his ear, she relaxed against him. He welcomed what he had thought was the return to his attentions. That her desire for flight was a thing of the moment. She couldn't hold such thoughts for long. Her next words weren't whispered, he thought they weren't spoken at all, but burned directly into his mind. “Damn you, let me go.” With the words came frost, the mist made solid on his skin. The hair on his arms looked like winter-fast grass at the edge of a pond. “How could I?” he asked through a brief, instinctive panic, only glad he wasn't capable of seeing the rise of pattern energy she was capable of calling. If she killed him, he didn't want a warning. His throat was dry; he could hardly breath to speak. “You chose me. If I'm damned, then it's your doing.” O'lin'te, her Chief of Staff started from the flitter, pushing J'yi back when the tass'altin tried to follow. Two of the Guard circled around. The Net lead showed Garm what the Temple-trained ti'Linn could see and he could not: the overpattern threads like lines of fire all around him and Cassa. Garm ordered the others back to the flitter and cut the lead at the same time. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  14. 14. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 12 Listen to me, feel me… his hands still said the important things to Cassa and he listened in the same way. Where he couldn't see that kind of pattern energy, he could feel her and force her to feel him. A walk it turned out to be, but to the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean. Dressed only in the innermost shift, she sat on a stone ledge. Braid ends from her bound wrists flowed between her knees. Some time into his effort to reach what existed of the woman within the Priest, the Audience robe and layers of petal shifts had been abandoned. O'lin'te brought him a blanket. The ochre ti'Linn carried the light of the flitter in the reflections from the hard chitin of its exoskeleton. Using serrated pincers, the first pair of limbs shaped a sign of formal Opening. “Sarkalt seeks allowance to join her here.” The Overpriest was apparently on his way—the faint whine of a flitter grew as the sound bounced off the higher mountains in back of them. “I'd have thought he had enough of her during the Judgments.” The ti'Linn nodded towards Cassa, mouthpieces clicking in another language before deciding on the usual mutilation of plain-tongue. “Walk or swim, best we leave. She drifts on a dark wave.” From the direction of the flitter, he heard the two Guards making a similar clicking sound. When he made the necessary allowance for the Overpriest's pilot into the Net lead O'lin'te offered him, the ti'Linn blinked its distress, the jeweled lights in the eyes momentarily darkening to red. Bred out the Wa'tic line, but larger, and the ti’Linn’s four eyes weren't faceted in the same way. Niv, Sarkalt's tass'alt, joined him beside the slight shelter of a large rock, but the Overpriest walked to be with Cassa at the edge of the cliff, the two watching where the ocean would be if there had been anything to see but gray cloud. They didn't talk, they rarely did. Niv had been speaking of South Bay. “He said we would go. Saleyin, the ranking Priest, was told to expect us. We should…” “Saleyin has been told differently by now.” Garm gestured to Sarkalt. “He’s where he wants to be.” Blue nails clicked against each other, showing the tass'alt's distress. “He looks at her. What does he see?” The words held a faint lisp carried from the native Camerat. Sarkalt's eyes hadn't left the clouded ocean but he thought Niv might have meant at the Judgment Assembly earlier, the young Camerat didn't appear to have a highly developed sense of time. “What are you worried about? Not the Priest in him certainly. And what remains of the man… if you're to his taste, she certainly isn't.” Walking from the flitter, J'yi joined them. Wearing formal clothes still, as Garm was, but in the style favored by the Tass'Holding at Palace and which complemented his grace. The wet had the lace weave dragging along the rough ground, gathering cedar twigs and leaves with the hem. “O'lin'te says she's still not stable,” the tass'altin whispered, sparing Niv both a glance and a half-formed sign with his fingers that requested privacy. Garm countered it. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  15. 15. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 13 “I hear no discourtesy from him,” Niv lisped softly. J'yi bowed. “The access is increasing and not residual. I must agree that the Overpriest being here…” He stopped, his eyes on Niv. “The medic scan can't reach her, she's stopping anything we try. She requires proper attention, at the very least a neural blocker. Her reserves are over-extended from the Judgments, her body can't handle much more without her becoming ill.” At J'yi's words, Cassa turned her head and looked at them. Simply the look of a woman, he had been surer of that than the tass'altin. If there were still a problem then O'lin'te would have delivered the message either in person or through a tight Net lead. He told J’yi as much. Niv watched J'yi leave. “Is he to the Empress's taste?” Asked as softly as his earlier words, but the few strands of crest hairs showing under the cloak's hood deepened to the same cobalt as his scales. Without waiting for an answer, he left to join Sarkalt. Cassa stood, the clouded dawn behind her and started back to where he waited. Wet silk clung to her, was molded to her slight frame, the pearl colored light showed each caress of cloth on skin. She looked like a child returning from bathing. As Niv passed her, she said something to him. The Camerat stopped only a moment, Garm couldn't see his face or hear an answer. He met Cassa halfway, she barely appeared to notice as he wrapped her in the blanket warmed by his body. He remembered Niv's more gentle anger and his own. Constant and biting. Had the passion in him burned out at last? What had driven him to use those words? “I hardly remember who I was then,” he said out loud. “San?” He jumped. Bending over, the serving woman's face was inches from his. “San, I've sent my boy for the Common's Security,” she said, apparently speaking to his nose. Her own wrinkled as though at a bad odor, and the smile, forced or not, was gone. It took a moment to realize she had addressed him by his title. “San, they should be here by now, you need an escort. Your own people… I couldn't get through, the Net is closed to everyone without high clearance.” Even so close, her voice was almost lost in the noise surrounding them. While he dreamed of things years past, the quiet had vanished. “Tass'alt. Hers. The Empress' man.” “San Garm, please wait…” He didn't wait or respond to her pleading. He didn't think, he just moved. The voices followed as he ran out and still waited ahead of him. Touches for luck—he was being pawed—and prayers, the shouts made his ears ring. At the mouth of the arcade he fled towards was an ancient man, human, but his species lost in the ruin of age. A seller of candies with bowls of sweets ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  16. 16. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 14 arranged in front of him. He called as he rocked back and forth, his hands folding paper into cones by rote. “Two-a-penny.” The heavy edge of Garm's robe tagged one bowl. Narrow sticks flew out as the bowl spun, red and white in a dizzying roll. “Two-a-penny,” the hawker called regardless, his voice reedy and thin. Yellow—the only colour left him—streaked down his beard from either side of his mouth. With the side of his foot, Garm began pushing all the sticks he could find towards the man. The hawker kept singing as he started to fold another cone of paper, his voice ringing louder and louder. “Two-a-penny, five a two penny.” His blue eyes were white streaked and shrunken, the rims a watery red. The sound of boots on marble stopped behind him with a brittle crunching sound. Garm turned to the scent of roses and a curse. Reaching for his usual Net link, he had to put the House mark in the calling before it would respond and again before it would break out of the Imperial Suite's system. The man's name and rank fell out of the air like a leaf in an autumn storm. Three Crescents Temple. Sarkalt's. And the man: a Security First. Suddenly, the candy seller's thin hand grabbed at Garm's sleeve, the paper cone crumpled against the yellow wool, the man's other hand fumbling in the bowls, scattering more candies than he picked up. “For her sake, San,” he said, pressing the sticky things into Garm's hand. “Ask her to come back. The stone in her rooms, we'll all be like the stone if she don't come back.” His hand full of the candy, Garm bolted, almost tripping over a Wa'tic in the darker corridor, the small creature skittering back with a scream. -3- The talisman went on the table first, tossed there without any particular attention and it slid between two stacks of books. Garm left it, already sitting and feeling the ache in his legs change focus. The lights next, they were too bright, and he signed the nearest glow globe off entirely. Of the area left alone by the change which had the greater portion of the Imperial Suite turned into stone, only his apartments were still in use, and here, off Simquin Hall, only two rooms: his study and the bedroom adjoining it. Comfortable rooms, patterned wood floor accented by rugs, the wall tiles covered with green silk and book shelves. The audience and meeting rooms on either side hadn't been used in years. Bolda snorted, startling him. Garm hadn't noticed him in the corner. “So, you're back,” he said. “I wish you'd tell me before you disappear.” A measuring look, not an answer, and Bolda continued with what he was doing. Behind him, silver threads in the silk that covered the wall traced the ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  17. 17. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 15 outline of a bird. The shape was part of Cassa's personal Signature; the silver marked the placing of the portal she had set in his room. Silver like the tube of the talisman. In the past thirty-five years, how many of his prayers had the portal heard? It hadn't been used since she'd left. Bolda rolled the service cart over to him. Sweet Ambisit charcoal burned in the squat round brazier, the spice of the Possitt root tea as counterpoint. Already steeping, the pot next to the brazier. “You didn't answer me,” Garm said. “You want this or not?” Garm crossed a leg over and pulled up the end of his woolen robe to rub at a foot. “Where were you this time?” “Do you want the bloody tea?” Bolda had already poured a bowl for him. Amber tea in a dark blue cup. There were stars in the summer night of that blue, but in the tea, not the bowl. He nodded. “Perhaps a lemon tisane.” “Perhaps not.” Bolda put the tea down on a cup sized bare spot on the table, and with a scowl, started pushing books to one side to find room for the pot. And found the talisman. “Why the hell did you bring this back?” Garm changed feet, feeling the bones move under the working of his fingers. “It was at that door, the small one near the main service kitchens on the second level. Well within the area bounded by Sinci Gate, but past what's become stone. You know it.” “I asked why, not where. Sloppy. The braiding, I mean.” “A Ri pattern, I think.” “You guess it's Ri, you mean. Well, it is.” Cords that were not much more than threads snapped between Bolda's short fingers. “You could have left it where you found it.” “It's trash now, so throw it out. Just stop complaining.” “It's the local's version of a Temple design; burning it might be better.” “I wouldn't think, or guess, that there could be any prayers left after your mangling.” Despite the words, he shaped an allowance for the burning with the fingers of one hand, the other hand finally warming courtesy of the tea bowl. He would feel even safer with it gone. Once he had touched it, he hadn't known what to do. Leaving the talisman behind had felt dangerous, as though he risked leaving a portion of himself with it. No one should have been allowed to get past any of the Gates much less so close to the change. The stink of the blooms followed the burning threads. In moments, all that was left was the tube, streaked with black. Bolda returned to sorting books, then from sorting, to reading. A glow globe had drifted from the corner to shine in Garm's eyes. If the smell of the flowers didn't give him a headache, the glare would. That globe died as well. Another moved over, but the angle of the light was less annoying and Garm let it alone. “Ri, an archaic form, but definitely Ri. For the twins.” He touched the spot where the flowers had lain. “What?” Bolda looked up from the book, one finger keeping place. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  18. 18. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 16 “That grass cloth scroll, from… a Temple archive I think… no, it was a private collection. I can't remember where.” “Pistalina'silli Gate Station.” Bolda had pulled the name out of the catalogue lead that Garm's usual Net link had offered during his rambling. “And it doesn't say a word about twins.” “The scroll wouldn't have started there, only ended. And what do think the word 'etinicin' means…” He held his hand up to stop Bolda telling him. “…if you base your primary translation on a cohort version of Win'slikan Trade before updating that language…” “Why bother?” “Because the Win'slikan influence on the higher caste languages of the… of that people, and the several marriages into the ruling dynasty… several marks of inflection were dropped from the common…” He ran out. His notes existed only in paper form, written in the margins of the scroll. And it wasn't just the legends, but Cassa. “She'd say that they must be my children, and hum the start of one of the ballads that said they were, that I'd lain with the woman and that her death had been Cassa's revenge. Then she'd laugh and say they must be hers in any case because I was. The last time I saw her, they were with her.” He sighed. “Well, I suppose none of it matters.” “Depends on what the Ri asked, doesn't it?” “Does it?” Switching to old-tongue, he added a spin of relative and absolute as only possible in that language. Bolda knew the words. But he got a grunt for an answer, an older tongue still yet. Bolda's round face reddened and he went back to tidying instead of reading, the push of books growing into a sorting of books. Next, he'd be going to put them away. Books already covered two walls, some obediently on shelves, others stacked on top of bookcases to wait their chance, and still more on the floor. Scrolls— paper and parchment both—sprouted from the openings of jars, some of the scrolls with ribbon ties knotted or broken, others loose. Small, elongated boxes of recording crystals, the enamel coding in bright bars on the sides, occupied the odd high spot. He tended to step on them. “What are you doing?” Garm asked. “Leave the books. I don't know why you're always fussing at my things. I'll need these… no, give me that one.” He held his hand out for the book Bolda had been reading. “You haven't touched them in days.” “How would you know, you haven't been here for days. Besides, I need them now.” He opened the book on his knee, or let it fall open; the place he wanted was well worked into the leather spine. Blue leather cover, paper pages in a lighter blue. Then he remembered something else and let the book ride his lap while his fingers found the deep pocket in the robe by feeling for the brocade trim. A handful of candies: white sugar twists came from the pocket colored with yellow wool fuzz and various colored lint. The green balls wrapped in smoky paper had fared better. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  19. 19. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 17 “Here,” he said, pushing the candies across the table. His fingers were scented with almond, he had to peal a white twist off his palm. “You can give me the silver tube in trade.” Bolda took the fire marked tube from his vest pocket, his blunt fingers seemingly trying to weave themselves into the metal. “You know better than to bring garbage in here. Other than the rest of it.” Despite his words, he took one, a green ball. The gray wrapping made a crinkling sound as it unfolded on the table. “They're from Risent Common.” “Think you had to tell me that? You really are an old fool.” Rolling sugar sweet lint from his palm with a lick-moistened finger, Garm shrugged but didn't look up. Bolda unwrapped another mint. “More excitement than they've had around there since the Risent Common Rompers won the spin-ball tournament.” He popped the mint into his mouth and talked around it. “I've indexed the Risent Assembly recordings to our own spins. What to have a look?” The Temple man had reached Garm before the Risent Common Guard were even close. And no one had thought to order warding restraints. He hadn't, but it wasn't his job to think of such things. What would Three Crescents Temple hope to accomplish by allowing a near riot to happen? And his own people? “No, I don’t want the index. Security can worry about it, not me. Just give me the silver.” This time he kept his hand out until Bolda took the rod out of his pocket again and gave it to him. “Perhaps I'll send it to the candy seller. Neither he or the tea shop were paid.” It slipped through his fingers and bounced off the blue tea bowl to clatter on the table. He let it ring down, the pitch rising until shrill and then gone. Bolda watched it. “Like hell you will. Think burning was enough?” The talisman had been tucked up his sleeve the whole time. Prayers, he thought, all those prayers shouted at him. A sudden thought made him laugh. He could take the prayers with him. The talisman wasn't needed. “Would you burn me then?” “What?” “Never mind.” Garm sighed. “If you're so worried about prayers… simple words, not like this… I think the Spann have the right of it when they pray to chaos, and not the part that an Empress or Emperor is of the Unity.” The Spann heresy. Cassa had made it flesh and bone. No part of her belonged to Empire's Unity. He turned the page to catch the light. “I know you've read the book.” “Put it away, or better yet, burn it too.” “You were the one who choose it, not me. The climatic fight between the Rin'cass wu, the rider of the dark flood of chaos, and the hero, the keeper of the Law of Empire. Preserver of the Unity of the world-patterns. Would you like one of the roles?” Bolda only scowled at him. “No? Perhaps you would prefer the one about the twins, or that other book…” “Which?” ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  20. 20. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 18 The silver tube had recalled it. His wife had worked on the translation with him. Dead now, he had said good-bye to her over the length of her illness. Did he have other good-byes? His daughter on Lillisim? A Priest, she would scarcely notice his death. His son? They hadn’t spoken in years. “You awake?” Bolda shouted from entirely too close. “What book?” “I never said that and I'm not deaf. And I scroll, not book. The white one that Ena had…” “Damn it, Garm, that jaunt through Cassa's…” “Did I go there? How about Risent Common? Did I go there too?” He sighed as a Security index sparked along one edge of his vision. The Temple records? Ignoring the index and the neural call-flags riding it like bees on a honey bush, Garm traced the complex form of the first phrase on the page before him with a finger whose skin was as soft and worn as the paper. And touched the silver tube with the same finger. “Death and birth, the title form means both, the same as on the scroll. The scroll describes a transition, more so than this story does.” At a touch, the Net flags flew away. “Still, there's enough of a transition here for events to shape themselves to. Life and death, they're both the same thing. Like Cassa is both life and death to me. She stole my family and my friends…” Being with them had been like trying to speak a language half forgotten from disuse, where you think you know a word but the shape in the mouth is wrong. He blinked back the prickle of tears, but they were from relief, not sadness. He looked up to see Bolda watching him. The shape on the page was his own thoughts and as hard to define into words that insisted on being one thing or the other. Would he even live to see his notes completed? “Life and death. When are death and birth ever separate?” Tiny knowing eyes were screwed up until almost lost in the mass of flesh. “You tell me.” Garm threw the silver tube back. He had to be wrong. Even allowing for the difference in species, he was at least as old as the candy seller and most of his reaction to the man had been horror at the mirror of his age. “I don't think this whole thing means anything more than that I'm old. I didn't go into her study this morning. It's been years since I'd last been through the outer seals, I can't remember how much longer since I've opened that one door. This morning, I stood on the threshold, my nose pressed against the stone of the closed door and I thought I could smell lavender… I thought about her while having tea in Risent Common. Ri-altar in the rain, that last day. Sarkalt was there, and Niv, we…” “So was I, remember?” Had he been? Garm shook his head. In all the memories, he hadn't seen Bolda but then he might have stayed in the flitter, keeping himself and his cording loom out of the cold and wet. “Then you know. I'll be with her very soon and I'm not sorry for it.” “Sure you will.” Bolda pulled at one long ear lobe. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  21. 21. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 19 He waited a moment for the rest of the answer then sighed when Bolda crossed his arms, a sure sign there wouldn't be anything more. “Go find something else to do for a while,” he said, but his fingers formed a shape that made the request into an order. He was tired of Bolda's interpretation of events. “Fine. I'll send Vi'si in. Let him put up with you.” “Don't. I'm going to do some work so I don't need baby-sitting. If I want someone, I'll call. Now go.” That earned him a glare but the man left. -4- Squinting as he held the thin sheet of paper at arms length, he forced the calligraphy into sense and read out loud, “First, day-break illustrious, morning of the Empress…” He shook his head. Written in a variant of High-formal he hadn't used before and he couldn't for the life of him think why he had decided on it now. At the thought, a Net lead buzzed in the air like the wings of a bee: Ki-Ki, one of three styles approved by the Greater Scribe Hall Association as compatible with… Pulling his mind sideways, he let the lead fade until it hovered as an whine about his ears, close enough to pop forward quickly when he needed help with changes to several quite elaborate forms. Then, after reading it over again to the end, he laid the paper on the table, rubbing at the creases where his fingers had broken the smooth gilt surface. Green below the gold, the same green as the ink he had used. The paper looked bruised. The rest of what he had written had been more of the same, none of it meaning what he had wanted to say. He was about to die and for all his talk, he couldn't face it. He wouldn't manage Ena's grace, and at the end, if he had any breath left, would be pleading for more. “I'd rather get it over with,” he told a particularity stubborn fold in the paper. “There's no need to drag this out.” No grace and no courage. The woven reeds at the window shivered in their frame of wood, but when he looked up, they were still. More memories, he couldn't leave them be. It was a real window—his rooms were on the outer shell of Palace, a mark of rank or privilege to have anything 'real'—and the warding was set to concentrate then draw the air inward. Cassa had liked a breeze; she had liked a cold room those nights she had joined him here instead of him going to her. His fingers moved against the fold of paper with a whisper of sound and in those sounds were words. “Words?” he heard, followed by a rapid patter and a sudden icy wind, a sound like the first sleet of autumn. “Is that all I am to you? Just words?” ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  22. 22. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 20 “No,” he said and placed the inkbottle on one corner of the paper to keep it still. His fingers creaked with the movement and the cold. “No, of course not.” Folding his hands into the long sleeves of his robe, he felt himself shrink down inside around a knot of fear. From the cloth of his sleeve, where he had carried the talisman, came the smell of the flowers, like rotting meat. Is this how it ends? With the curtain of his mind opening as he died; with dreams and reality becoming one and the same? Had he even gone for a walk? A harder blast of air. His eyes watered at the cold, the writing in front of him blurring. And in the blur, he saw himself as though a part of his mind looked into the room. Wind lifted the fine silver strands of his hair as he looked up, and the faded green of his eyes flickered to emerald in the uneven light as the reed blinds at the window fought against their fastening. And saw also, that in the eyes doing the looking, he hadn't changed any more than thirty-five years had passed. “All I would speak or write, I find in you,” he said, with the start of a smile. “Cassa, it's been a long time.” The reeds shattered as a fist of air slammed through the window, the scream of their flight shredding the memory of the flowers and the lingering buzz of the Net. Thin air as cold as winter filled the room with a crackle of ice. “Time, Garm?” the crystal flakes sang as they danced. “Has it been any time at all?” For a fleeting moment, no longer than it takes for a crystal of snow to melt in the hand, he remembered his fear at the rise of power at Ri-altar, all those years ago, and wondered that he felt none now. Then his smile grew and he laughed, snow falling from his breath. “No, Cassa. No time at all.” -5- Open to the sky, the dome above the spirals in the center of Three Crescents Temple was a darker circle in an arc of green marble. The thin atmosphere outside Palace sang with a moaning sound at the interface, sipping at the air within, drinking and occasionally gulping. The barriers were unstable things, deliberately so, meant for interest in the sound and in the way the torches on each pillar responded to the movement of air with quick flares of light. Sarkalt noticed the offering of heat and light, noticed them like he did the people in the promenade surrounding him, those within the spiral as he was. All minor and unimportant compared to the six narrow columns of green that rose around the mound of soil for which the leading arms of the smaller spirals reached. The draw of air pulled the scent of the loam away from him, but he was aware of it as much as the other things. Soil from Ri-surface, the acid mixture of ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  23. 23. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 21 the cedar forests near South Bay, but with the sand of the beaches mixed in, giving salt and the decay of different lives. The placing was deliberate: they stood at the Spring-tuff spiral, the small primary spiral nearest to the entrance and one of the six that were evenly spaced around the center. Pilvir, his Chief Salin, turned to him, green fire and torch light reflecting from the dark chitin. Except for the sound of the torches and the moving air, all was quiet. “Lord Priest?” the ti'Linn asked in High-formal. “What form do you wish?” Despite the even tone, reluctance showed in the slowing of the revolving lights in its eyes. Sarkalt didn't need to look to see the other person with them, but he did. A third to Pilvir and his pairing, the Acolyte was as contained but with quite different feelings if such could be called so. Aides, not guards, were on either side of him, and even they wouldn't be needed except for support. “As is required.” Sarkalt motioned that they should kneel. Pilvir anticipated him, folding two pair of its legs, the aides holding the boy as much so, and he knelt only moments later. The teal of the boy's eyes was a thin band around the black pupil. Pleasure at the harmony—at the inevitability of their actions, a fitting into the pattern with a grace that Sarkalt had looked for and not found in himself, despite his being a Priest. “As is needed,” he said then remembered he had already said something close. The near pillar, he looked there, the drummer hadn't moved but the small drum in her hand sounded with a quick sharp beat of nails against leather. Niv, his tass'alt, had been waiting, watching. Sarkalt hadn't thought he would stay; his leaving was the continuation of the less than subtle protest started this morning. Riltic, his Second, was still there, the Priest's tass'alt with him. “Once removed,” Sarkalt said around the small sound and let the Temple Net read the order before he sealed the area against any outside Net interference in much the same way as it was for an Initiation. An attendant passed the same drummer, carrying to him in the skirts of her robe the softer rustle of air over leather. “Lord Overpriest.” The greeting was for him, but she knelt beside Pilvir, the small, elongated basket she carried was for the ti'Linn's use. Her eyes went briefly to the third person before returning to her hands folded in her lap, and Sarkalt saw she knew him. In the basket were allipalli stems, matched in weight. Six of them. Taking them, Pilvir taped the lengths even against the marble then shaped the request and held it until Sarkalt gave his attention. “And the form?” the ti'Linn asked again. “Blood Sacrifice.” Pilvir motioned and the nearest drummer stroked the surface of her drum, and had the sound picked up by the five others spaced at the pillars around the spiral centre. And repeated, the dance of hands becoming more complex, each beat shading into the next. The sound might last forever, Sarkalt thought. It held him suspended in necessity, it was a focus and a reminder. Blood sacrifice, an extreme form of prayer and one that Temple reserved for its own use. Sarkalt moved the slight ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  24. 24. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 22 amount that helped with the focus of the energy blade, a shift of white braids against one thigh, one hand only and less a physical need than something instinctive, that more than thought should be required for this much result. The aides strained against the sudden dead weight of the boy. The drums stopped. And in the sudden quiet: blood scent with earth and sand. And allipalli stems. Narrow and strongly lemon scented, they were from young growth, probably the secondary shoots that followed the first blooming, and growing high on the mountain, rarely had time to set seed before the killing frost. A memory: he felt the easy snapping of the stems against finger and thumb, a motion he hadn't been able to perform since becoming a Priest and never had on any world that grew these plants. He had walked the high meadows above South Bay where these would have been gathered and as easily as he had felt the picking, he was there, the green sky above him. He thought it might be earlier this same day. Who am I, he wondered, expecting the one doing the picking, but when he expanded his awareness to see, he was wearing the white ceremonial robe, blood in a tear across one side where it had splashed at the first cut. Yellow w'tin pollen streaked the silk and mixed with the blood. He was out of season, or part of him was. This was late summer near South Bay on Ri, the w'tin among the allipalli were in full bloom but those plants he saw around him were in bud, not bloom, and still he had their pollen on his robe. “Once removed?” Riltic breathed into his ear, the fingers of one hand in a form that had Pilvir stopped in the midst of the first movement, the allipalli stems poised. Sarkalt felt Riltic follow Ri-pattern into the Unity. Searching for him. “A meadow,” Sarkalt said. And looked to his face. Torchlight or sunlight? Was his Second with him on the mountain? “The allipalli stems,” he added, wondering. They weren't fresh after all, but dried, the scent would be a memory of both the growing and the picking. The ones held by Pilvir were much thicker than what he had first seen, the lengths intricately carved and with faceted crystals set into their lengths to guide the recording of what Pilvir was attempting to find. Only when a Priest or union of Priests directly searched the pattern energy released in a sacrifice, were the stems plain. “What of them?” Riltic asked. Koisen, his tass'alt was at his shoulder, the gentler set of her features allowing the worry to show. “Shall we delay this?” Sarkalt let his gaze go to the dying boy. His eyes were open but unfocused, lost to another vision perhaps, but the pupils remained dilated as death approached. “Can this be stopped?” he asked, and signed Pilvir to continue. One dip of the ends in the blood and Pilvir held the allipalli stems between the flat of two pincers. Rolling them slowly to start, tiny drops flew off the spinning stems, a spray of red on the white cloth, drops on Sarkalt's face as he watched. More drops fell on the green and white marble as the Salin rolled them faster and faster until the first stems escaped and the ti'Linn let them go. Three touched Sarkalt's robe, at the edge where it was fanned out before him. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  25. 25. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 23 Pilvir was panting with the effort of watching for any pattern the stems might echo, its eyes darkened almost to extinction. And blood still flowed slowly, pooling about the boy's knees. “Nothing comes to me from the stems,” Pilvir clicked in ti'Linn-native, glancing at Riltic, then repeated it in high-formal. “Nothing of past consequence or future design. The woman is only the girl our last records of her show.” “Do it again,” Sarkalt said. His name was Dal'itin, he was seven years an Acolyte and he died, sliced from the inside of his elbows to the start of his fingers. “I know that,” Sarkalt said. Or I will know it. Will die, future tense—he forced the words to make a framework of time in his mind, and watched as Pilvir dipped the stems again. “Know what?” Riltic asked. Sarkalt didn't answer the other Priest, saying only, “Again.” The boy still breathed and still there had been nothing they could see. You sent him to his death. I know that also, Sarkalt thought. Or not sent, he went willingly. Despite my caution, I was with him; we walked together. Is his life more or less because of his death? Should I mourn what is? After the last throw, Sarkalt sat back on his heels and listened to the small noises, the fire of the torches, a faint rustle of cloth and bells as one of the attendants shifted position, the soft crying of the attendant who had brought the allipalli stems, Pilvir's labored breathing, the soft, involuntary clicking noises, even the distant reflection from the pattern-blade in the ripples of power that could still be seen in the blood that splattered the space around them. The six columns of Ri-light hadn't changed; he hadn't changed. Marble, granite, tiles. The space weighted him down. He would have rather done this at Ri-altar in the open air, the dark presence of the small cedar trees set where here there were pillars of granite rising to the dome. He didn't think he would have gotten lost at Ri-altar. Koisen stirred from where she knelt at Riltic's side. “Was this for any good at all?” “Anything that I missed, Lord Priest?” Pilvir echoed in heavily accented Ri- tongue. Sarkalt shook his head as he rose but signed honor, that the fault wasn't in Pilvir's effort. Or in the ti'Linn's skill. The pattern lines—even augmented by the release of the boy's life—gave no past and no future to their actions. Only this present. For a moment, and in the same way as he had become lost on the mountain, his memory of the past was muted, as though none of the events had actually happened, but were a fantasy, a drama stored in the neural Net systems. For amusement, for entertainment. He laughed, the sound rolling around the processional. Cassa. The Challenge and the deaths that brought her to power. The sheer force of her creation that kept her there despite the united ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  26. 26. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 24 opposition from the balance of the High Council. The brittle reality she had left behind in her flight from Empire's domination, from the millions of years old structure that constrained her actions regardless of her will. Ulanda's birth, her training, his failure with her. Walking was difficult; the sodden robe slowed him. A weight more of place than blood, he thought, when the burden lightened by the time he reached the granite pillars. He stopped there then turned his head to Koisen, motioning her to join him. Over the boy's body, Riltic was chanting the start of Ri-common burial prayers, a spinning of the energies here into a cohesive whole that spoke of the person the young man had been. Hopes and dreams rose out of the past, a past of seven years ago, there hadn't been any since he had taken the Temple vows, a lack that Sarkalt thought had lead him to send the boy into this when he had the choice of doing nothing and would have arrived at the same end. Pilvir was by the main entrance talking quietly to the Three Crescents' Head of Security, another of the Skybite Caste ti'Linn. With them was Anga. The Piltsimic shook his head and looked towards him. The two ti’Linn left then, still talking. In the spiral, one of the aides gathered blood soaked cloth; another unwound a bolt of fabric for wrapping the body. “Have Niv wait for me at the baths,” he asked Koisen. “Can you manage to get him there?” She nodded. “You coddle him,” Anga said, coming to stand at his other side. “This whole business is his fault.” “I don't recall asking you here, loom-master.” The dark Piltsimic walked forward to toe the still form of the boy before answering. “Way you've been acting, don't know that you would recall it. Besides, Pilvir thought I might be able to talk some sense into you.” He had no doubt of the ti'Linn's loyalty, but loyalty didn't exclude other sympathies. “I doubt my Chief Salin said it quite like that.” Anga snorted then rubbed his toe on the back of his trousers before kneeling close to the body. He examined one arm closely, ignoring Riltic as he was being ignored. “Why did you choose him for the sacrifice?” “He's dead.” “I can see that.” He wiped his hands on his trousers as he walked back over, the blood showing only as moist streaks on the dark cloth. “What the hell did you think you were going to accomplish by this?” “You're repeating the obvious,” Sarkalt said as he sat, using the pillar to support his back. The drummers had left; he would have liked them to stay. Another sound that wasn't Anga or a reminder of the death he had just caused. Anga took his sitting as an invitation to join him. “Which part is repeat and which is obvious?” Small dark eyes crinkled in laughter. “You're a mess. Is that obvious enough?” “Are you asking for restrictions or for permission?” “What are you on about now?” ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  27. 27. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 25 “What I do is none of Rigyant's affair. Or do you have a tame Priest you think capable of challenging me for this Office?” “Damn it, we had an agreement.” “Past tense?” “You tell me.” Anga motioned to an attendant and a moment later a bowl of tea was brought. “We need to talk.” He looked at Sarkalt through the rising steam. “Can you manage that much?” “Here,” Sarkalt said. “Pleasant choice.” Anga put his tea bowl down and looked over his shoulder. “I'm always surprised how much blood there is at a slaughter. I don't know why.” “Am I supposed to know why?” A narrowed look, then Anga shook his head. “If you want us to talk here, then open the area.” Sarkalt released the block on the nodes in Three Crescents that served to carry Palace's various neural Net systems. And then authorized a further opening: a limited intrusion of the Palace-based loom-master Council's Net. Temple Net flooded in. And, he could assume, the other, although he had no sense of it. A tight lead to Anga alone. The aide tying off the wrapping had blood dried into the lines on the bottom of her feet. Some of the footprints in red on the marble matched. Human and the scratches of ti'Linn claws. “Footprints,” Sarkalt said, suddenly bemused by the way they crossed and circled. Anga turned where he sat to get a better look. “Do you see something there that you missed with killing him?” “No, only chance married to where the feet had to be.” Anga sighed and shook his head. “You could give a little here.” “I have no need to give. The Unity is; I am.” “The Unity be damned. South Bay Temple Net records show Ulanda as dead. I've got witnesses to her execution who aren't the kind to be fooled by any pattern pull you could manage on your own.” “And was I on my own?” Anga snorted. “Apparently not.” “And now she's here in Palace. Am I still on my own?” “If I were you, I wouldn't depend on your current alliances holding. All you've got to show for this is an Acolyte turned whore who will die like she would have twenty years ago if she'd gone into Initiation. Hell, like the others of her people did. Badly.” At the sampling of the Altasimic people that had created Cassa, only she had survived. The Initiates had been selected over generations from blood lines intended to produce the Priest caste for their people, and then kept in stasis. All except Cassa had completely unstable access to any sort of pattern. And, with two others besides Cassa, access to overpattern. How many more had died before Rigyant had abandoned the attempts? To the Rigyant faction on the High Council—to the loom-master Council responsible for creating the race— ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  28. 28. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 26 information was currency. Little came out of the Bilo'pan Plain Sector, not even from the Temples. Sarkalt crossed his legs. “I wonder if we didn't ask the wrong question.” “In the spiral?” “Lives are currency.” “Some cooperation might reduce the costs.” “Apparently you have a plan for neutralizing the Empress that doesn't involve a direct challenge for the Office she holds. What?” “First, I want them both dead. And this time, I want the bodies.” “Ulanda, of course.” “Damn right. And the Simic.” “And the Weaver?” Anga grimaced. “No.” Was there trouble on the loom-master Council? “As I said, lives are currency.” “Is that an agreement I hear?” “You won’t be stopped by my people.” The words became orders as he pushed his mind into the awakened Net, using Ri-pattern to set parameters of will rather than reason. If Anga wished the two dead, he had the resources of Three Crescents and affiliated Temples in Palace—allies, if reluctantly so, of the Empress at the time of her disappearance and with links to the Imperial Suite systems. Anga gestured for more tea and waited until it had been brought. “Instead of Challenging the Office, we're opening the Altasimic Sector.” “That’s early by what? A Nexus?” “Close enough. What’s a million years or two.” After the failure of the Sector sampling, Sarkalt's analysts had concluded that Rigyant would modify the evolution of the people themselves, not simply wait for its maturation. And which is why they had secured genetic material for their own purposes. As was usual with a new people, the Altasimic Sector had been warded against outside pattern energy, with only enough of their own pattern set deep in the worlds themselves to guide the evolution of the life forms. A creation, a blend of chance and design. And a new note to the harmony of the Unity. Except unfolding the set pattern threads would normally take hundreds, if not thousands of years in a slow shaping that allowed for what the people actually were, not just what had been planned. “An Opening with Nexus Change building?” he asked. “Is it? Hadn’t noticed.” Anga snorted. “Don’t worry, everything will happen in just hours. A few months for the pattern threads to stabilize, and then we can get in there to salvage what we can. Nexus Change won’t even be a blip on the horizon.” “Why?” “Why what?” Then the loom-master shrugged. “Among other things, we’ll set the unfolding so that most of the current generation who are sensitive to pattern will die without imprinting the new pattern threads to any degree. And we'll get rid of a few loose ends. Like Ulanda. That blood line goes.” ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  29. 29. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 27 The loom-master made the last into a demand. Sarkalt made a motion of indifference. Only she was necessary. And Anga's attempt to kill her would fail. Or it wouldn't. He could be wrong. In the face of Cassa's power, even he could be wrong. “And what's left? A people who don't throw Priests? Like the Spann? I'm surprised.” Something else shimmered out of the dance of Net systems. “The Spann have their uses,” he heard. And around him, the processional flattened and spread. Sheets of marble, columns, the tiles of the infrastructure of Palace, all became interconnected lines, and the lines became a net of blue fire. And in the fire, a constantly changing mix of mind and will. Poultat. And confirmation of at least one of Anga's allies. Anga looked around, a sour expression on his face. “No, not like the Spann. We're talking half a hundred worlds here with variations on the gene line. There'll be survivors capable of stable pattern access, even if not from the Priest-lines we had intended.” “Or in the way that had been intended?” His question didn't get an answer. What had already been said was an admission of failure on a massive scale. And with it, something Sarkalt hadn't expected: an admission that access to overpattern had been bred into these people. Was it a blindness of his own that he hadn't realized the deliberate nature of what Cassa was? Or had he been blinded? Looking past what his eyes persisting in seeing, Sarkalt stretched his will into the Net, jostling the watchers, Three Crescents Temple staff, and now the loom- master's people in the Temple system. And a third, riding on the second to create the Net image he saw. As the familiar inner Temple reformed around him, he heard a laugh he recognized. Mullaki, Overpriest of Initiates. Poultat pattern sparked against his Ri and the Net threatened to fold. Despite similar origins, pattern and the neural Nets didn't mix easily. Another push of will and around him grew a stream shaded by willows. A meadow, and in the distance, rose and gold in the sunrise, was the lake the stream fed. Free to the sun and wind, he sat surrounded once again by the frothed milk of allipalli blooms. He let his will match the time it was now at South Bay. Late afternoon and the delicate masses of flowers shook less, the wind was dying to an evening calm. And here, where he sat with Anga, there was no wind at all; in his mouth was the stink of blood. Two realities—and he found to his surprise that it was his pattern sense that insisted on the focus. The processional, the blood, the body of the young man. The green sky was a domed ceiling and the stands of brush cutting through the meadow were the pillars of stone. And the people: foxes panted in heat of the afternoon as they paced the gentle slope, the deer, shock- still, had their long legs folded, only heads and slender erect ears showed above the grass and flowers. Mullaki had pulled back past where he could feel her without opening himself too far. “And the way that had been intended?” he asked the loom-master again. ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  30. 30. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 28 And through the checks attempted by the loom-master's people, the impressions came. Anga nodded, his heavy features drawn. Sarkalt knew he would be getting a more literal version through his private link to the loom-master Council's Net. “For several of the Priest blood-lines, the sensitivity to overpattern we saw at the sampling is tied in with their ability to access pattern. It was the degree of access and the degree of instability for any type of pattern that wasn't expected.” And Rigyant's purpose in such a creation? A purpose that had been unfolding since before the Altasimic suns had formed? Holding himself very closely, Sarkalt pushed deeper into the Net, searching for the interface between the loom-master Council's system and Temple Net. “Forget it,” Anga said. “You're out of your class.” “Is that a threat?” “Where the hell did that come from?” “Is it?” “You're noted for not provoking personal threats. I'm beginning to think it's an unwarranted reputation.” Sarkalt's impressions coalesced in his mind and the air about him shimmered in sympathy to his inner reality. The meadow faded until it was more a scent in the mouth than the place where he sat. Had the loom-master's words been a threat? Or a puzzle, not a simple threat. Heat and cold. Tones of voices, if not words. And his own piece of the puzzle? What did he contribute? Lingering in the air was the scent of the allipalli blooms, powder dry and tasting of sunshine. And the scent of cedar from the forest surrounding the meadow. Dark, cool, moist. The taste of stone in the mouth along with the perfume of the leaves and bark. He let the remains of Net image and pattern pull die and the processional where he sat became whole in itself again. “Cedar,” he said, and laughed at the expression on Anga's face. “Shaping Empire is a dangerous game, Anga. Don't you ever tire of it?” “It's not a game.” “And what would you and Mullaki weave with your newly limited Altasimic Priests that could contain Chaos itself?” The scowl deepened. “I'm not surprised your creation got away from you.” Sarkalt shook his head. “I wonder if the solid Piltsimic form doesn't give more to the Rigyant loom- master memory weaves than simply a body and a mouth.” Anga snorted loudly. “What does your body contribute to the Office of Overpriest of Forms? As a Voice for the Rigyant loom-master Archive, I've known a fair number of Overpriests. When we see the end of this mess, will your signature have a dark band over top the green?” An Empire Select like Cassa? And if so, then possibly with enough power—his own wedded to his allies—to gain ascendancy in the High Council? “Emperor? Is that the ambition you suspect me of? Is that the ambition you bought Mullaki's alliance with?” With one hand, Sarkalt brushed the marble beside him. Out of the green sparks trailing from the blood stained braids ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  31. 31. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 29 wrapping his wrists, shapes appeared. Rings of silver and small stones of jet. Two ivory dice. The game pieces dissolved even as he looked up to Anga. “You look at Cassa and see only your spoiled creation. The Spann's god of Chaos. The destruction of the Unity.” “And what do you see?” The question came from Mullaki, not Anga. The Poultat Priest stood before him, her tass'alt at her side, between her and Anga. And through her, that particularly Poultat gestalt of her Household. Nets of blue fire—a promise in the species that hadn't been kept, that many could become one mind. His Security began to move. Surround and contain, repair what they had already failed at. People, energy systems, warding. He made a motion for them to stand down. His will to live was as much a defense as it was his chief weapon. He hadn't felt an approaching danger, so he wasn't in danger now. “I see what I'm offering her through Ulanda,” he said to Mullaki alone, in one small place out of all the various realities either of them could fashion at will. And to Anga: “I don't need to see. As Overpriest of Forms, of Empire Law, I am Empire.” Anga drained his tea bowl and put it down. “And what do you see when you look at Ulanda? What did the boy's blood gain you?” Do see? The loom-master hadn't used the past tense. Was this another admission of failure? Sarkalt laughed, wondering if the man had noticed the lapse, or if was an unconscious result of what the loom-master was hearing through his Net leads. He saw an end to the danger that Cassa meant if she was still Empress at the cresting of Nexus Change, if she provided the focus for overpattern to invade and destroy the Unity. If no successful challenge had laid that nightmare to rest. Or if Rigyant failed with what he now thought they planned: a binding made out of her native Altasimic pattern energies, most likely done while the threads were released. A very special weaving of reality meant to contain one woman. “Ulanda… she's the words I hear Cassa whisper to me, she's my breath when I stand before the night sky.” “How far has this gone?” Another admission. And just then, through his own Net lead, from the Empress's Weaver: Cassa has returned. -6- Garm inched the chair closer to the table so that when he wrote, he wouldn't be leaning at an awkward angle. His apartment was furnished Simic style, not with the cushions and low tables more common in Palace regardless of species, ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  32. 32. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 30 and as he had gotten older, he welcomed the reminder of home as much as not having to get up and down. “On the first morning of her rule, the Queen walked from her Suite and onto the colonnade. She was followed by those of her Court who believed they had business with her or who looked for favor and by others who were curious or merely idle. The colonnade was like a spear in the side of the Palace, itself without sides and without an end until you were there, suddenly, with the whole of Ri before and under you.” Not bad, only one large ink smudge among the many smaller. The rustle and squeak of the white ceramic nib against the paper was entertaining, that and watching the ink flow from the surface as the paper took it. He could see why the Scribes preferred this to the redi-stylus for languages needing a finer line than a brush gave. He dipped again, quite pleased with himself. This was what he wanted to leave behind when he died. Not exactly memory but truer, he thought, than if it had been. “The Queen stood looking out, her toes curled slightly over and feeling the edge through her soft leather slippers like the edge of a stair before stepping. “So, this is all belongs to me,” she said. The High Priest was the only one who spoke. “Not even the clothes you wear are yours.” The Queen turned her head to look at the people scattered like sown grain behind her. Closest but for the High Priest was the Royal Chamberlain. He stood very still, staring at the surface of the colonnade with eyes the color of green stone. “Do you belong to me?” she asked and he raised his head. He would have looked away but she held him stilled like a terrified rabbit. “Yes,” he said in a hoarse whisper, the word choking him. He was a tiny reflection in her brown eyes, there was nothing else. “Yes,” he said again, but softer now, as though waking from sleep. “That is enough then,” the Queen said and let time roll past her as a tide around a stone through the long afternoon and into the evening and the others drifted away except for her Chamberlain. When the light was almost gone and the last of the day was a thread of tangerine wound between the mountain peaks beneath them, she turned to him again. “Will you come with me?” And, one last time, he said, “Yes.” Sometime in that night, the courtiers would later say, the Queen took the form of a great bird. And some among them said they had even seen her as she rode the towering thermal columns, a great bird of silver with eyes of green crystal, the crashing beat of her wings echoing from the walls of Palace with a sound like diamonds shattering. The Chamberlain had spent those days, from the dawn of the first until the Queen returned, in his rooms. His friends came and he laughed and talked with them as was his custom but his eyes were veiled and in quiet moments he would ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  33. 33. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 31 go to the window and stand there looking out at the green sky until the others became uneasy and would find a reason to leave. When alone, he often picked up a tie of dark green ribbon—Simic green, a hair tie—from the table by his bed and would run his fingers along the length, smoothing the satin weave, and holding it to his nose, would inhale the faint lingering perfume. On the third day, when he knew the Queen had returned, he took the small lacquer box in which he kept his memories and put the ribbon inside and sealed the lid.” A scatter of ink from the last close, where the nib had caught on a crease, and Garm stopped to let it dry. That last part had to go at any rate, he thought, rubbing his writing hand to ease the cramp. Old memories. And now? The book spoke of a battle between good and evil. An archetypal myth that showed the creation of order out of chaos, a cycle that occurred each Nexus Change when the very fabric of their reality was threatened. The Unity was made up of numerous world-patterns, orderly, made things, not the wild chaos of overpattern. The drag of the Unity of Empire against the larger universe outside caused stresses only resolved by reforming the original order. The death—and in some stories, the blood sacrifice—of the Rin'cass wu, the rider of the Change phoenix, sealed the victory for Empire. He looked at the pen. It would only be his own memories, his own death. The Rin'cass wu was a face to chaos, or rather, a mirror of it in which others could see what little could be understood. To those who had written the story, the Emperor—the man or woman—would have been the hero. A Priest, a bulwark of order. Someone capable of directly touching the Unity through their world- pattern, not simply a highly trained Salin. Both though, were a part of the Unity. They hadn't foreseen what Cassa was. He laughed again, breaking the stillness of the room. The weariness was gone and with the ice melted in an opening of sorts, an unfolding somewhere deep inside him. When he looked down, for a brief moment, his hand was a smooth amber, and strong. He had no regrets in loving Cassa, regardless of what she was. How could he die when she couldn't? Then just old again. Waiting for Cassa he had often regretted his peoples short life span, not like the Piltsimic… and, as often, had regretted how slowly the years without her had passed. And wished himself already dead. He looked back at the writing with a sigh. Bolda was right. He spent too much time alone with his own mind. Nexus Change would happen in a future he wouldn't know. He’d be dead long before the Change Phoenix rose. Everything seemed to hurt as he got up. He left inky fingerprints on the wood where he gripped the back of the chair for balance. As he walked slowly to the door, he glanced at the broken reeds from the window shutters strewn on the carpet. And stopped, his breath caught in his throat. Forgetting how difficult it would be to get up again, he knelt on the edge of the carpet. His hand trembled as he reached out. Wool, the pile sheared smooth, and from how the colors glowed, there was silk in the fine yarn. Bolda's work and recent, he thought, but wasn't sure. Half a ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca
  34. 34. Ri — Eye of the Ocean Book One 32 dozen small and large rugs between this room and the other—rugs came and rugs went, they weren't anything he paid particular attention to. This rug was in a pattern of flowers and vines and small brightly colored birds. And over that, the pile finely clipped along the edges to raise the design, were the long pale brownish reeds broken into lengths by fillets of sharp edged glass. Or they had been sharp, biting mouths if you didn't handle the window shutters carefully. But now, not wood—or stems, if reeds weren't wood—but part of the rug as though woven there from the start. His fingers fanned the threads like the bound pages of a book, the brown surface speckled with dark blue, giving way to a washed lavender center, darker again below, and under that, pulling color from the sides, was the deep red of a rose petal. “What have I done?” he said with a release of breath, drawing back and keeping his eyes narrowed to a small segment of the whole. When that wasn't sufficient caution, he concentrated on the back of the hand that pushed against his knee as he struggled to rise. He glanced back at the rug and snapped his head away as quickly, eyes shut too late as the image flashed: twin suns mated in a lavender sky over low mounds of blue grass that rose out of a flood. Islands skirted with reeds, purple against ebony, reeds that sang with diamond tongues as the wind blew a serpentine path through the black water marsh. “San Garm?” Bells? He opened his eyes tentatively. A dark haired woman dressed in formal robes, the girdle ties the red and blue of the set Imperial colors, and the girdle pattern that of a near-aide. The robe itself was black. Cassa's House colour. A deep breath started him coughing. Cassa. A very long time and he had forgotten entirely too much. He took another deep breath, fingers trembling against his lips. What he had seen had been Camerat. The thoughts trembled like his fingers, feeling as weak. “Who are you?” And before the woman could answer, added: “Bolda's doing?” She bowed. “San Garm… is there something wrong?” He walked to the table where he had been working. An inkbottle. Creased gold paper. A pen, the nib stained with green ink. He picked the pen up and held it like a trophy, facing the window where the reed shutters had been. From this angle, there was no horizon, no world below him. The entire universe might be sky without end. He turned away, feeling the ice of Cassa's return all over again. The woman was still there. A question? He remembered now. “Nothing is wrong that is any of your business. You can clean up here, there's the tea… and my writing case…” Where had he left it? Under the table. “Here… no, leave the books. And the paper. And have someone in here to take the rug out.” He waved to include whatever else might need doing, and sat. “And fresh tea, no order it, don't go.” And: “Well, go as far as the Hall. The Net isn't working in here. The node must be broken. Get someone to fix that too.” As she tidied, he watched her from the corner of his eye while playing ots and crosses on the back of the original paper using the well chewed pen. Not a little ©Laurel Hickey www.2morrow.bc.ca